GM Hopes Recalls Won’t Dent Customer Loyalty

General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies on the GM ignition switch recall during a US House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 18, 2014.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies on the GM ignition switch recall during a US House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 18, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

CEO Mary Barra hopes consumers will accept record number of recalls as evidence of company's new dedication to safety

A day after recalling another 7.6 million cars in North America—that makes nearly 30 million this year—General Motors announced its best June sales month since 2007. The result demonstrates the company’s remarkable ability to retain consumer confidence in its vehicles—so far, at least—while at the same time highlighting its past failures. GM’s light truck and auto sales rose 1% in June, which had two fewer selling days than last year, so it’s more like a 9% increase on an adjusted basis.

Auto sales remain strong, and GM is going to get its share. It will sell some 9 million vehicles worldwide this year, so in a sense GM is pushing new cars out as fast as it’s taking defective cars in. The latest recalls include cars as old as 1997 Malibus (there won’t be many still registered) and as new as 2014 Cadillacs and Chevrolets. These most recent recalls are linked to seven crashes, including three fatalities and eight injuries, associated with a faulty ignition switch, although GM says there is no conclusive evidence the defect caused the crashes. The company is taking a $1.2 billion charge in the second quarter to pay for repairs on top of a previously announced charge of $700 million.

The vast number of these lookback recalls are the result of GM’s overhaul of its safety organization following the revelation that defective ignition switches on Chevy Cobalts and other models caused at least 13 deaths. (GM has begun paying the victims’ families compensation.) An investigation revealed that GM’s safety engineering infrastructure was calamitously culpable in failing to address the ignition switch defect even as the evidence became known. “We undertook what I believe is the most comprehensive safety review in the history of our company because nothing is more important than the safety of our customers,” said CEO Mary Barra in a statement announcing the recall. “Our customers deserve more than we delivered in these vehicles. That has hardened my resolve to set a new industry standard for vehicle safety, quality and excellence.”

The organizational failure led Barra, who’d just become CEO, to undertake a bold but risky strategy: in addition to reacting to incidents uncovered by warranty data or accident reports, the company has gone looking for trouble in the cars it has already produced. And it’s found quite a bit. Yet according to MIT manufacturing expert Steven J. Spear, author of The High-Velocity Edge, this approach could turn into a competitive advantage for GM.

“If this is a pivot point, from designing things with the assumption that you can design it right and flipping that— let’s assume that we’re designing things with some mistakes– you can contain the problems you created and have a strong influence on the future.”

But Barra’s resolve and apparent openness will also test GM’s customers’ resolve to stay with the company. Some customers, like my sister, for instance, are blasé about it, since she’s generally happy with her 5-year-old Traverse. Others may take a look around, and that’s a bad thing in the car business, where most people buy a car once every five or six years. GM sees an opportunity in the recalls for dealers fixing them to demonstrate good service. Still, some car owners will have to wait until at least October for new ignition switches for all the cars cited in the initial Cobalt recall. If they’re in the market for a new car, that might offer them reason to consider other brands.

Without a doubt, GM as well as other auto companies, are making safer cars. GM points to the fact that in the last two years its vehicles have gained recognition in JD Power’s rankings of initial quality. But nobody can make perfect cars — and given the fact that the auto companies have better analytic capabilities that can spot potentially faulty or failing designs or parts, you may have to expect more recalls as the pace of discovery increases. “It really boils down to learning speed,’’ says Spear. “Can you be the fastest learner; if you can, you win the auto industry.” Certainly, GM is taking a crash course right now.

TIME World Cup

Waffle House Boycotts Belgian Waffles in World Cup Solidarity

Liege waffle with fresh berries and whipped cream at Locolat in Washington, DC.
Liege waffle with fresh berries and whipped cream at Locolat in Washington, DC. Evy Mages—Washington Post/Getty Images

Just call them 'freedom waffles'

The United States has a new World Cup ally against Belgium: Waffle House.

In advance of Team USA’s Tuesday match against Belgium, the breakfast chain has gone to extensive lengths on Twitter to clarify that they do not—and will not—serve Belgian waffles.

The patriotic message was retweeted over 17,000 times as of this writing. And the Georgia-based restaurant chain did not stop there, continuing to tweet clarifications that they have never served Belgian waffles. It’s also cheering along the American soccer team ahead of its do-or-die match.

Waffle House was not alone in denying any Belgian connection. Beer company Budweiser, which is owned by a company based in Belgium, tweeted a video featuring an American bald eagle and a cheerleader in red, white and blue.

America faces off against Belgium in Brazil at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.


Washington State Is Low on Legal Pot

Johnson, managing owner of Queen Anne Cannabis Club, shows off marijuana strain "Beast Mode OG", in Seattle
Nate Johnson, managing owner of the Queen Anne Cannabis Club, shows off the marijuana strain called "Beast Mode OG", named after NFL player Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks, in Seattle on Jan. 28, 2014. Jason Redmond—Reuters

A slow licensing process means that stores set to open next week could be overrun

If inspections go well in the following days, the Washington State Liquor Control board plans to issue the first retail licenses to legal pot shops on July 7. That means July 8 could be the historic opening day in the Evergreen State. The problem is that only about 20 retail shops are expected to get licenses—and they may even have trouble getting their hands on bud to sell.

“Supply is going to be tight,” says Brian Smith, communications director for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the body overseeing the implementation of the world’s second legal weed market. Thorough inspections have slowed the issuing of licenses to growers, processors and retail shops that make up the supply chain servicing pot-seekers. The state has issued 79 licenses to producers and processors, according to data released June 24. More than 2,000 applications remain pending. “The reality is that when we’re working with applicants, a lot of people aren’t ready to be licensed,” Smith says, noting that businesses may not have set up sufficient security or even finished building their locations.

The result of the supply shortage could be hiked prices—on top of already heavily taxed marijuana—long lines or limits on amounts consumers can buy. Smith says officials from Seattle have called the Board, seeking information about how they might best ensure public safety next week. Colorado faced similar worries ahead of its retail opening on Jan. 1 this year, a date locals dubbed Black Wednesday. In both states, officials have walked a tightrope as they make rules for the new market—trying to keep supply sufficient but also low enough that weed doesn’t spill across borders into states where it remains a controlled substance.

Washington has long known this shortage could be coming. “We’ve always been worried about supply and demand,” Smith told TIME in December, discussing the Board’s decisions about where to cap the number of licenses. “You base it on the best data you have available.”

And given that Colorado and Washington are charting new territory, that data is not in great supply yet either.

TIME Autos

All the Cars GM Has Recalled This Year Would Wrap the Earth 4 Times

General Motors Recalls
General Motors Chevrolet vehicles are seen on a sales lot on June 30, 2014 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

And other amazing GM recall facts

If you’re wondering why it seems that there have been more car recalls than ever in recent months, it’s because there actually have been — Before this year, 2004 held the honors for the most number of vehicles recalled in a single year, at 33.01 million. Now, 2014 holds that record, with 39.85 million recalls already. And we’re still six months away from Dec. 31.

While many automakers have announced major recalls this year, General Motors has contributed to nearly three-fourths of the 2014 figure. This year, GM has recalled over 28.5 million vehicles worldwide. Its latest recall involved over 7.6 million cars in the U.S., and over 8.45 million in North America.

Here’s seven things you could do with the 28,580,353 cars GM has recalled worldwide this year.

1. The recalled vehicles could wrap around the Earth more than four times.

Most of the recalled GM vehicles are over 170 inches long. Using that as an underestimate, if you lined up the cars bumper to bumper — the world’s longest traffic jam — they’d stretch for over 160,000 km. The Earth’s circumference is 40,075 km. A Long Line of Cars indeed, Cake.

2. They could also line the Russian border. Twice.

Russia has a whole lot of border territory: 69,031 km (37,861 miles) of it. That same string of cars could go around the massive country’s borders twice — and then some.

3. A stack of the 24,904 recalled 2012 Chevrolet Sonics would reach outer space.

If you stacked these cars up bumper to bumper, you’d cross the Kármán line, the altitude of 100 km (62 miles) above sea level that divides the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space. Stack all of GM’s 2014 recalled cars and you’d be halfway to the moon, which is 384,403 km away. NASA, call your office.

4. The longest time between recalls hasn’t even been longer than the World Cup.

The longest stretch between separate GM recalls this year was between February 25 and March 17 — less than one month. The World Cup runs from June 12 to July 13 — a month and one day. The shortest time between recalls was one day, between May 13 and May 14.

5. Bill Gates could foot GM’s recall bill 30 times.

The world’s richest man has a net worth of $76 billion, which would allow him to cover the $2.5 billion GM has set aside to pay for this year’s recalls. Kim Kardashian, whose net worth is around $40 million, would have to take out a loan.

6. The recalled cars weigh more than 100 Empire State Buildings.

The 2014 Chevy Cruze is one of lightest cars GM has recalled — and one of the lightest cars available on the market — at 3,084 pounds. Using that as an underestimate, the total mass of all recalled cars is over 40 million tons, about 120 times the mass of the Empire State building, which is 365,000 tons.

TIME The Brief

Showtime Over as NYPD Cracks Down on Subway Acrobats

Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME

Here are the stories TIME is watching this Tuesday, July 1.

After blaming the death of three missing teens on Hamas, Israel launches a series of airstrikes over the Gaza Strip.

Iraq’s newly formed parliament fails to appoint a new Prime Minister before a July 1 deadline passed, after Kurdish and Sunni lawmakers walked out.

The NYPD is cracking down on subway acrobats. Train car performer arrests are up 600% from this time last year.

And finally, one old wrinkly white guy rips some other old wrinkly white guys. In promotion of Monty Python’s new shows, Mick Jagger wonders why anyone would care about elderly entertainers.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

TIME Immigration

U.S. Looking to Expand Domestic Air Force to Defend Borders

Border Control Multirole Enforcement Aircraft
A Multirole Enforcement Aircraft gets modified for its border-guarding mission in Hagerstown, Md. James Tourtellotte—U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr

Up to 40 planes sought to help halt “the unlawful movement of people” and for other missions

As tens of thousands of Latin American youngsters stream into the southwestern U.S. illegally, the Department of Homeland Security said Monday that it is seeking up to 40 sophisticated surveillance aircraft to bolster the defense of the nation’s borders.

“Aircraft and aircraft systems shall be capable of operating in diverse environments, to include the hot and arid conditions of the southwest border region, the hot and humid conditions of the southeast border region and the cold conditions of the northern border region,” says the request for information posted by the Customs and Border Protection Office, part of the Department of Homeland Security.

The government wants the plane’s sensors to be able to detect a person from seven miles away, and “shall be able to classify the target” from two miles away. It also should be able to detect a small airplane like a Cessna 172 from 17 miles, and a 30-foot boat from 29 miles.

The border-protection agency has been beefing up its air force in recent years, after flying aging DHC-8 and PC-12 aircraft and 26 twin-engine planes that it says it had “inherited from a variety of sources.” In 2009, the agency ordered an initial lot of 10 Multirole Enforcement Aircraft—specially-modified Beechcraft Super King Air 350ERs—to begin replacing these planes.

The seven delivered to date are flying out of San Diego, Calif., and Jacksonville, Fla. The $20 million planes are outfitted with global positioning systems, weather radar, wide-area air and marine surveillance and search radar, ground-moving target indicator, digital video and audio recorders and an electro-optical/infrared camera, which allows for optimal surveillance capability during day or night. The planes have a maximum speed of 310 miles an hour, a maximum range of 1,850 miles and can fly for five hours. It carries a crew of two pilots and two sensor operators.

The agency says it is looking to buy 40 more “newly built, commercially produced, normal category, FAA-certified multi-engine turboprop/fan” aircraft. These additional Multirole Enforcement Aircraft would be used to fill “a growing requirement to support law enforcement and emergency response operations with sensor-equipped surveillance aircraft capable of collecting, recording and transmitting real-time imagery to tactical and strategic command and control coordination centers,” the Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine says. “This aircraft will be used primarily for maritime, air and land surveillance and interdiction missions and logistical transportation of cargo and people.”

The agency says its roster of 1,200 agents “protects the American people and the nation’s critical infrastructure through the coordinated use of integrated air and marine forces to detect, interdict and prevent acts of terrorism and the unlawful movement of people, illegal drugs and other contraband toward or across the borders of the United States.” In 2013, the agency said its airplanes played a role in the seizure of of more than a million pounds of marijuana, 150,000 pounds of cocaine, $25 million in cash, 2,194 weapons, and in the apprehension of 63,562 undocumented aliens.

TIME weather

First Hurricane of the Season Could Ruin Your 4th of July Plans

Happy Birthday, America

Well here’s a birthday present America can do without. A tropical depression that formed off the coast of Florida Monday night could become the season’s very first hurricane … and it could move north along the East Coast just in time for the 4th of July, raining on literal parades in its wake.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the depression is expected to become a tropical storm — named Arthur —Tuesday. AccuWeather predicts that the conditions will be at its worst on Thursday into Friday around Delmarva and New Jersey. Independence Day hotspots Long Island and Cape Cod will experience the most bad weather during the day Friday and into the evening.

“The system, which is forecast to attain tropical storm status and could become a hurricane, will hug the coast and could even make landfall in North Carolina before turning out to the Northeast late in the week,” AccuWeather’s Dan Kottlowski said.

Although if the storm does move northeast as predicted, firework conditions could improve from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia and New York City.

This has been a week of bad weather. Severe storms swept across the Midwest to the Great lakes Monday, resulting in strong winds, reported tornadoes, heavy rain, several injuries, and two deaths.


TIME National Security

Report: NSA Authorized to Spy on 193 Countries

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md.
The National Security Agency headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md. Reuters

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowed information to be intercepted in all but 4 of the world's countries, according to a new report

The National Security Agency exempted four countries from its list of places where it could rightfully intercept information, leaving the world’s 193 other countries open to surveillance, according to a new set of top secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Four countries that had signed a no-spying agreement with the U.S. — Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — were declared off-limits by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Washington Post reports, but the court approved a list of 193 countries where the NSA could legally conduct surveillance.

The list also authorized spying on 20 organizations “not substantially composed of United States persons,” including the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union.

Other documents showed the court approved expansive rules for the collection of emails and phone conversations of foreign targets. The NSA was granted authorization to monitor not only the targeted person’s communications, but also individuals who come into contact with the target, including American citizens. Nearly 90,000 foreign individuals and organizations were designated as foreign targets in 2013, according to a report released Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

[Washington Post]

TIME Caffeine

Prom King Died From Caffeine Powder Overdose

Logan Stiner, 18, died after ingesting a toxic amount of caffeine

Correction appended

The death of an Ohio high school senior just shy of his graduation has officially been attributed to a caffeine overdose.

On May 27, recently elected prom king Logan Stiner, 18, came home for lunch and ingested enough caffeine powder to cause an irregular heartbeat and seizures. His brother found him dead next to the white powder.

“I never thought it would hurt an 18-year-old child,” neighbor Lora Balka told WKYC.

Lorain County Coroner Steven Evans said Saturday that 1/16 a teaspoon of power has the caffeine equivalent of one can of Mountain Dew or a high-power energy drink. No one saw how much powder Stiner drank or knows where he got it from, but Evans said that it can be purchased online.

In October 2013, a British man died from a caffeine overdose after eating too many Hero Instant Energy Mints. Every mint contains the caffeine found in a can of Red Bull and the label advises taking no more than five in a 24-hour period. The coroner did not disclose how many pills John Jackson, 40, ingested.

“I am as certain as I can be that Mr. Jackson did not know he was exposing himself to danger,” said Coroner Robin Balmain, who vowed to write to the U.K.’s Department of Health regarding the potential dangers of high energy products.

In 2010, a 23-year-old man died in Nottingham, England after ingesting two spoonfuls of caffeine powder at a party with friends, which is the equivalent of 70 cans of Red Bull. The label warned to only take one-sixteenth of a teaspoon.

“Caffeine is so freely available on the internet,” coroner Nigel Chapman said, “but it’s so lethal if taken in the wrong dose and here we see the consequence.”

This article originally misstated how Lora Balka was related to the victim. She is a neighbor.

TIME medicine

Painkiller Use High Among Soldiers Returning From War, Study Finds

A soldier salutes the flag during a welcome home ceremony for troops arriving from Afghanistan on June 15, 2011 to Fort Carson, Colorado.
A soldier salutes the flag during a welcome home ceremony for troops arriving from Afghanistan on June 15, 2011 to Fort Carson, Colorado. John Moore—Getty Images

Of the 2,597 soldiers surveyed, 15% had taken opioids in the past month. Among civilians, that number is around 4%

A study published by a U.S. medical journal found that soldiers returning from war experience pain and take prescription opioids much more than civilians.

U.S. Army researchers surveyed an infantry brigade that had recently come home from Afghanistan. Of the 2,597 soldiers, 44% reported experiencing chronic pain that lasted for three months or more. 15% had taken opioids in the past month.

By contrast, the study’s authors suggest that 26% of civilians endure chronic pain, whilst 4% take opioids. Robin Toblin, who led the study, told the Los Angeles Times: “We were surprised by the percentages.”

Of the 1,131 soldiers who experienced chronic pain, nearly 14% described it as “severe”. Combat injuries were the main reason for the pain whilst rates of chronic pain were higher in those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. 60 soldiers said the pain was so bad that they were taking opioids nearly every day.

The study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine noted that use and misuse of opioids, prescribed for chronic pain, has “ballooned” recently. But experts said the study didn’t answer the questions it raised about whether opioids are being correctly prescribed.

“American medicine in general is overprescribing,” said Dr Mark Edlund, a psychiatrist and pain expert who was not involved with the survey.

The study did suggest some soldiers might have been incorrectly prescribed opioids. Amongst those taking the drugs, 17 soldiers said they experienced no pain and 144 reported it as “mild”.

Painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone have faced a public backlash as addiction rates and fatal overdoses continue to increase. These drugs are considered most beneficial for short-term pain. When prescribed for chronic pain, the benefits might not exceed the risks.

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